May 20, 2008

Press-Enterprise blots out the Sun

A trenchant analysis of the San Bernardino Sun/Riverside Press-Enterprise circulation wars from Sun cast-away Paul Oberjuerge. His post comes in response to a triumphant memo from PE Publisher and CEO Ron Redfern, celebrating his paper's circulation growth and the losses suffered by the competition.

To wit: According to the latest readership figures from the most recent Scarborough Research report for the 12-month period ending January 2007, our total weekly print audience has grown to 825,596 – a 5.5% increase in the Los Angeles DMA, the nation’s second largest metro area, spanning five counties and more than 52,000 square miles.

This is a very significant accomplishment for our team. Why? Because The Press-Enterprise is the only newspaper of the Top 5 in the L.A. DMA to post a gain in readership. All of the others lost among the other Top 5 newspapers, The Los Angeles Daily News saw a 7% drop in readership; The Orange County Register was down 4.3%; The Los Angeles Times fell 4.1%; and The Ventura County Star was down 0.3%.

During the same period, LANG’s Inland Empire Newspaper Group division -- The Sun, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and the Redlands Daily Facts -- saw a 6.9% decline in its total weekly print audience.

And what’s even more exciting, The Press-Enterprise’s weekly print audience in San Bernardino County jumped 10.4%, while The Sun’s San Bernardino County audience was down 2.1%. We also saw a 5.8% increase in its Riverside County audience.

(Read PRNewswire story here.)

I encourage you to read Oberjuerge's entire post, and pay close attention to the part where the newsroom talent flows from the Sun to the PE. Investment in talent was the key strategic move here. The PE kept a relatively large staff and paid people like grownups. As a result, the PE became the paper reporters and editors went to after gaining some experience at a LANG paper. Having been offered a PE job, I have a good idea of the salary gap.

There are other factors at play, of course, and no one is saying the PE is perfect. But you can't win a war when you're busy disarming yourself.


Mike Rappaport said...

It's very obvious that the PE succeeded because it was run by people who really wanted to publish a newspaper.

That may sound overly simplified, but think about it. Everything LANG has been doing the last few years has been about the Web, or niche publications.

Hell, all the way back in 2001 -- when Steve O'Sullivan decided that my column of five years was to end -- it was all about me being the main writer for the very first issue of "Living Here."

LANG doesn't want to publish newspapers.

BELO does.

Anonymous said...

What's the salary gap?

Anonymous said...

The web is just a buzzword around LANG, there is no resources provided to their web operations for any kind of growth whatsoever.

Mike Rappaport said...

You miss the point if you say it's just a buzzword.

LANG doesn't spend any money on anything.

The "niche" publications are done without any extra resources -- it's all about stretching writers, photographers and editors until they snap.

Because there are always more writers, photographers and editors available.

Len Cutler said...

LANG's affinity for web operations is based on a cost-return model that mistakenly believes online revenues require less investment.

Sooner or later they'll figure out that content costs money and people aren't going to visit a web site with lackluster content any more than they'd buy a paper with lackluster content (probably long after it's too late to do anything about it) but until then, they're going to obsess over those niches that seem like "free money".

As for the rest: I'd argue that in light of their corporate strategy, it's hard to believe LANG ever wanted to get into the publishing business in the first place - newspapers are just an undervalued industry where an unscrupulous investor can gut a business and turn a profit. Guys like Singleton and Zell aren't journalists, they're investors - as long as they think there's money to be squeezed out of newspapers, they'll keep on gutting community papers in pursuit of that final nickel. Eventually they're going to dump their holdings, the question is what's going to be left when they finally decide they've had enough.

Anonymous said...

The salary gap from LANG to PE is somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000.

Anonymous said...

So Mike, how's the job hunt going? I know your wife's "six-figure income" is enough to support you and all but have ya even bothered to step outside and try to look for employment? Or are you still too busy pontificating about you were "unjustly fired?"

Silly me, guess I foolishly to add to the discussions here. My bad.

Anonymous said...

"Silly me, guess I foolishly to add to the discussions here. My bad."

My itchy typing finger got ahead of me. What I mean to say was:
"Silly me, guess I foolishly thought you might actually have something new to add to the discussions here."

Like I said, my bad.